History of events behind Columbus Day would likely sadden those who support “freedom and justice for all”

While many Americans view Columbus Day as the recognition of cultural heritage, a number of American Indians, indigenous people, and U.S. citizens hold a vastly different view. “It is estimated that 85 percent of the American Indian population was wiped out in the 150 years following the arrival of Columbus,” says Dana Klar, director of the Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

Dana Klar
Dana Klar

“This was due largely to the spread of diseases, such as smallpox, both accidentally and deliberately, among American Indian populations,” Klar says.

“The transfer of diseases from the Old to the New World became known as the ‘Columbian Exchange’. Seizure of land and material wealth, genocide and government and religious policies rooted in cultural assimilation also contributed to the decline of indigenous populations.”

Today, the state of Minnesota does not celebrate Columbus Day and in South Dakota, a state with a large number of American Indians and reservations, Columbus Day is known as Native American Day.

“It is time for this nation as a whole to follow suit,” says Klar, a member of the United Houma Nation. She notes that the Fourth of July gives Americans the opportunity to commemorate the founding of this nation and its ideals.

“Inherent in the celebration of Columbus Day is the recognition of the conquest of the founding fathers, and their embracing the manifest destiny ideals they had purportedly left behind,” Klar says.

“A thoughtful analysis of the history of these events would likely sadden those who support the ideals of ‘freedom and justice for all.’ I encourage everyone to take a moment to reflect on what it is we are ‘celebrating’ in this day, and to request that you consider instead celebrating indigenous contributions to this nation.”